For the Birds

“Grill season” doesn’t (un)officially start in the US until Memorial Day weekend at the end of May – like Labour Day weekend in NZ, the time when you’re supposed to dust off the BBQ grill, put on your first pair of shorts, and start planting out the warm-season vegies. The weather for the last few weeks, however, has been firmly in the New Zealand summer range (and was up to 32C today, help), so we dusted ours off considerably earlier. We used the BBQ inconsistently last year, but buying an instant-read meat thermometer has revolutionised the whole enterprise. No more guessing! No more trying to estimate time based on how hot the barbie feels when you hold your hand a few inches away from the surface! You just stick the probe in and take the meat off when it hits the right temperature. Genius.

Spring, having sprung. (There was still snow on the ground six weeks before I took this photo. Spring happens *fast* here.)

Spring, having sprung. (There was still snow on the ground six weeks before I took this photo. Spring happens *fast* here.)

Normally my hands-down favourite thing on the barbeque is your standard lamb loin chop, but since the ones at the supermarket cost approximately the price of an acceptable restaurant meal (and that’s barely a mild exaggeration) we’ve been trying other things in an experimental spirit, to wit, the spirit of “can this thing in the fridge be cooked on the barbeque”? Googling yesterday for suggestions on how to cook a whole chicken – our BBQ is not nearly fancy enough to have one of those rotisserie things – I came across “beer can chicken”.

As weird as it sounds, this is apparently not just a thing in America, it’s a big thing - though I’d never heard of it before. In its simplest form, it just involves propping your chicken upright on a half-full can of beer and cooking it in a closed BBQ, the theory being that being upright allows the skin to brown properly and the beer in the can keeps the chicken moist. Most of the basic recipes are something like this one. If I had to guess, I’d imagine its invention involved the following ingredients: a chicken, a barbeque, and a bunch of hungry people standing around drinking beer. This is not the sort of thing you’d come up with totally sober.

When I say it’s a big thing, I mean you can buy equipment to make the process easier. Some of it is pretty fancy. There are books . There are heated debates about how well the technique works. It’s practically an industry.

As advertised.

As advertised.

And when I tried it, I have to admit it worked pretty well (although I’m going to put a lot of that down to the meat thermometer letting me take it off the heat exactly when it was cooked, which is so crucial with poultry.) Confession, though: I didn’t use a beer can. Or beer. We do have beer in the house, but I don’t think there’s any American beer sold in cans that I would drink (or at minimum pay my own money for) voluntarily, and most of the imported stuff we buy comes in bottles. We didn’t have beer can chicken so much as cheap-sparkling-wine-in-a-lemonade-can chicken (I feel like the “cheap sparkling wine” bit preserves the spirit of the whole thing.) While this discussion does emphasise the danger of the recipe, honestly, if you remember the basic facts of barbeque safety, i.e., Stuff Is Hot, Be Careful With It, it’s no more dangerous than cooking anything on the barbie. Unless you forget to open the beer can before you put it on, but that’s edging pretty close to Darwin Award territory. (On the other hand, this is a country where people have been known to kill themselves through trying to deep-fry turkeys by putting a pot of oil on the barbeque. So.)

Honestly: I can’t say it was noticeably more delicious than a chicken roasted in the oven, but it was definitely more entertaining.

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2 Responses to For the Birds

  1. Carol Stewart says:

    Lucy – how interesting that beer can chicken is such a big thing in the US!
    We became proud owners of a massive hooded BBQ last year when we lived in Christchurch, and the idea came out of one of those little handbooks of hearty activities for young lads that my young lad was given for Christmas. So we’ve tried the method with beer and with various other liquids in cans, most notably Fanta and V. Quite honestly I couldn’t taste the difference and I think I prefer regular oven-roasted chicken with lots of lemon and herbs. We don’t have a meat thermometer, but the BBQ itself is fancy enough to have a thermometer so that seemed to work pretty well for estimating a cooking time.
    Your attempt looks very creditable indeed. Like you say – great theatre.

  2. Rose says:

    Lucy, is that image your house or a neighbour?
    So looking forward to seeing you both soon
    (well, it will come round fast!)

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